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Need for Speed

Need for Speed
Directed by: Scott Waugh
Released on: March 14th, 2014
Grade: 1 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is facing tough times. His father just died, and he is about to lose his local custom auto shop. As fortune would have it, local NASCAR hero Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) shows up — with Tobey's ex-girlfriend Anita (Dakota Johnson) in tow — to make Tobey an offer to rebuild a special car he and his band of irresponsible, socially inept, sexist and sexually repressed mechanics would be super stupid to reject (although there is a debate among them).

Once the $3M project (give or take $250,000) is completed and split to Dino's advantage, 75/25 percent, Dino challenges Tobey to a race where the winner takes all. Tobey accepts the wager.

Not only does Tobey lose the race plus the much needed money, he loses his buddy, Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), and winds up in jail.

After spending nearly two years in prison for the death of Pete and having learned nothing about his own complicity in Pete's death, the first thing Tobey does when he gets out is seek revenge. In order to seek revenge, Tobey is going to need that $3M car, break parole, and get from Mt. Kisco, N.Y. to California in under 45 hours to race in the De Leon.

The granddaddy of illegal street races, the De Leon is an annual, invite-only race conducted by Monarch (Michael Keaton), a legendary racer himself, who is now an arrogant talk show host. "It's my show!"

Where in California they need to go is to be determined — fortunately for them, it will be San Francisco. At the very least, this will be a 3,000 mile drive. That means from Kisco to 'Cisco, Tobey will need to average 66.6 miles each hour for a continuous 45 hours. Stupid boy — he thinks he and his buddies can do it. But wait, there has to be a woman involved as well.

In a role that should pad her wallet considerably more than her thespian credentials, 24-year-old Imogen Poots (V for Vendetta; Me and Orson Welles) plays Julia Maddon, a 20-something engine-savvy, personal assistant to a very rich man, Bill Ingram (Stevie Ray Dallimore). If Tobey wants to borrow Bill's $3M car, Julia has to come along for the ride and make sure the car is treated well. Julia does nothing to protect Bill's car, however, and thanks to Tobey's driving, the car gets beaten up along the way. Eventually, the $3M car is totaled, but that does not seem to faze anybody. (I am deliberately not mentioning the vehicular product placements, er, make and models of the cars involved in Need for Speed.)

So, once again, Tobey and his pals — sans "Little Pete" — are back on the road. Heading west, racing against a deadline, they need to make a pit stop in Detroit and pick up one of their mates, Finn (Rami Malek), who is now slugging it away in corporate America. Finn's departure from work is one prolonged pathetic attempt at humor.

Then it is off to California via highways, smaller highways, side roads, chase scenes, hijacks, hijinks, etc., before there is yet one more race that will prove, once and for all, that Tobey is a hero.

Based on a popular video game franchise, stunt coordinator-turned-director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor), newcomer screenwriter George Gatin and others involved in the making of Need for Speed have brought to the screen one of the most poorly written and ethically irresponsible movies in recent memory. And that is saying something in the wake of last week's released movie, 300: Rise of an Empire, an extraordinary example of idiotic, neo-fascistic storytelling.

One of the more ludicrous aspects of Need for Speed is the role of Benny (Scott Mescudi, who needs acting lessons and better lines from the script). Benny helps Tobey by flying around in the air, giving him personalized traffic reports. To aid and abet the fugitive Tobey, Benny hijacks a television helicopter or "borrows" an Army Apache helicopter. The latter is used to tow Tobey and Julia off a cliff. Right.

Another laughable premise is law enforcement's inability to track down Tobey and Julia, or any of the others for that matter. Not only does Tobey have Benny and his "jets" in the air, he has a super GPS system. Apparently it is better than any local, state or federal tracking system because nobody can track down the $3M car. Nobody but members of the public who send Monarch footage of Tobey. It is as if the NSA, FBI or other tracking agencies do not have the capability to track the car or the cellphones used by Tobey, Julia and the crew — even when they call into Monarch's talk show.

In addition, the winning prize for the De Leon involves all the other cars involved in the race. If this year's race is any indication of past races, the race will be a financial loss to the winner as well as the losers (but maybe not to the car manufacturers involved).

The list of idiocy goes on, but what stands out as the greatest flaw in Need for Speed is that it expects audiences to consider Tobey and his ilk as somewhat heroic, when in fact they are a bunch of inconsiderate, menacing, terrorizing jerks who should be stopped by any legal means necessary.

First of all, let us nod to the "liberal" argument that auto racing is an ecological scourge on the planet. Tons of finite fuel are burned into the atmosphere, causing ozone depletion, which leads to violent climate change. If people are serious about saving the earth, the fuels used in events like NASCAR racing need to change drastically and immediately. Need for Speed glamorizes fuel consumption in the name of auto-induced adrenaline. In one scene of the movie a bicyclist is treated as a wimp as Tobey's muscle car barrels down past him at a maniacal speed.

Now, regardless of one's political leanings — that is, if you have any, as this film is clearly counting on the anti-intellectual, apolitical portion of the American population to buy tickets for the movie — I think we can agree that illegal street racing, dismissing law enforcement as a menace to the "high art" of illegal street racing, and making jokes at the expense of the homeless are not heroic qualities.

In the first race of the film, Tobey and buddies barrel down the streets of their hometown of Mt. Kisco, N.Y. — actually shot in various areas in Georgia that are notably less affluent than Mt. Kisco; perhaps to give it that blue collar feel — at terrifying speeds. Since the race is late at night, only a few drivers not involved in the race need to come to a screeching halt because of these idiots. If racing on the streets were not dangerous enough, Tobey floors it down an alley and into a homeless man's shopping cart, destroying what was probably everything the poor man had. Tobey and company later have a few laughs at the expense of the "bag man" walking on the sidewalk who, let us not forget, had the right of way. The $5K prize money Tobey won from the race would probably not cover the damage he did to others. 

In the second race, Tobey, Pete and Dino are driving three nearly identical, very expensive cars at high speeds. They are not driving on a race track, mind you, where, as we saw early in Need for Speed, they have access to use, but rather on the streets and freeways.

This time, cars do crash because of these three scumbags. At one point, Tobey finds himself going against traffic that is moving at a considerable speed. Now, any sane person with an iota of consideration for his fellow human being would stop right there before he seriously hurts or kills someone. After all, this is not some video game. This is "real" life with "real" people. But Tobey keeps barreling down, terrifying drivers in oncoming traffic, making many of them crash, haphazardly pull over, probably have heart attacks, etc. At this point, I imagine any viewer would say, "I hope these fucking assholes crash and kill themselves before killing an innocent bystander."

That Pete actually dies during this race should not make any thinking person sad. He was terrorizing his fellow citizens. All that mattered to him was that he or Tobey win. Although Pete was traveling at speeds in excess of 100 MPH, he was not wearing a helmet or even wearing a seat belt. Neither of which would have saved him from that spectacular crash anyway.

Another stupid trope, which gives impetus to the driving force behind Need for Speed, is that Tobey takes the rap for Pete's death. Apparently, the police cannot find proof there was a third driver involved. Yes, despite there being dozens of witnesses to a high speed chase involving exotic sports cars, and, I imagine, surveillance cameras on the bridge where the accident took place, if not other places, there is no proof there was another car involved. (Later on in this 130-minute movie, the proof of the third vehicle is discovered in yet another flow of lamentably lowbrow writing.)

Although it never seeps into Tobey's head, he is partially to blame for Pete's death. Pete was his "little brother" and Tobey gave him the keys to the car. He used Pete to block Dino from getting past him, knowing that this kind of setup can be highly risky, if not lethal. Pete might have lived on had the three of them raced at the race track, wore the proper safety gear, and hired impartial witnesses to monitor the race. But no, selfishness and stupidity reigned.

In the race across the country, there is more mayhem, destruction and terrorizing by Tobey, Julia and his crew. Only now it is on a national scale. From Pennsylvania to Michigan to Nebraska and beyond, other drivers on the road must swerve, smash or crash to avoid Toby as he carries on his heroic quest. At one point, Tobey wrecks the car of a police officer (Nick Chinlund) in order to escape.

The fact of the matter is that Tobey leaves vast amounts of senseless destruction in his wake and yet, the people behind Need for Speed expect us to cheer him on. If a real person did what Tobey and his ilk did in real life, like drive 100 MPH against traffic (imagine your loved ones in the car with you), most Americans would want to drag him out of his car and open up a serious can of road rage on his frame.

Lastly, the De Leon. The fictional underground race featuring some of the fastest cars in the world is taking place in Northern California, north of San Francisco. The track, which does not logically follow actual roadways in the area (it is a conglomeration of various strips of highways and roads), is not cornered off for the racers only. Non-racing drivers, like a school bus full of children, will be on the road.

Tobey shows up to the event in the car nobody seems to have seen or remembered in the race where Pete died. Also present are members of the highway patrol. Of course, to any sane person, the presence of law enforcement at an illegal street race would be a good thing. Law enforcement is protecting and serving the public. But that is not how Monarch, clearly the movie's conscience, explains it. "Racers should race; cops should eat donuts," he says.

In their attempt to stop the De Leon, members of the highway patrol put their lives on the line. Their cars get smashed, some igniting into a fiery ball of metal, glass and human being. Since we never see a single officer of the law get out of the burning car, we can presume them dead. There is no visible reason to think otherwise. At any rate, they are miles away from any visible medical help. All but two of the drivers involved in the illegal race presumably die as well. Authorized to use lethal force, the cops do take down one or two of the drivers. Bravo. At one point in the race the drivers pass a children's school bus at speeds of over 90 MPH. Then more law enforcement crash. 

In the world of video games there are no lethal consequences for racing at high speeds, especially on an unsupervised course involving innocent bystanders. Driving down the path or levels of a video game is harmless (except maybe to one's brain). In the real world, driving on the streets at excessive speeds has very serious consequences — as the recent death of Fast and Furious star Paul Walker personifies (remember, he was not driving).

To add insult to stupidity, from a legal standpoint Tobey barely accomplishes anything for his mad dashes across the country. At best, Dino will be prosecuted for hindering a prosecution and falsifying testimony. Those are challenges a rich guy can easily handle. And Tobey's destruction of the evidence by driving the car does not make the case against Dino better. Meanwhile, dozens of Tobey's victims have suffered and many, if not all of them, are presumably dead.

Off camera or outside of the video world, people who drive like Tobey are not heroes. They are not even rebels sticking it to authority. They are selfish, inconsiderate villains terrorizing our streets and should be stopped by any legal means necessary as swiftly as possible.

Unfortunately, the movie, Need for Speed, illustrates otherwise.

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